The Psychological Effects of Unemployment

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We all know that unemployment can bring a person down, but did you know it can actually alter one's personality? According to a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, gaps in employment may cause personality changes that could make it more difficult to return to the workforce.

The four-year study gave 6,769 German adults a test to measure five major personality traits (conscientiousness, neuroticism, agreeableness, extraversion, and openness) at two points between 2006 and 2009. Among the participants, 210 said they were unemployed for one to four years during the time of the study and another 251 were unemployed for under a year before they found work.

Agreeableness for unemployed participants generally declined over time, but there was a distinct gender difference. While women's agreeableness tended to decline with each passing year of unemployment, men actually had an increase in agreeableness in the first two years of unemployment. However, after the honeymoon period of funemployment ends, men's agreeableness also begins to decline beyond two years out of work.

With each passing year of unemployment, men's conscientiousness declined. Women, on the other hand, had an increase in conscientiousness at the beginning and end of unemployment periods, with a decline of conscientiousness in the middle.

"The results challenge the idea that our personalities are 'fixed' and show that the effects of external factors such as unemployment can have large impacts on our basic personality," said the study's author Christopher J. Boyce, Ph.D.

Since employers usually consider conscientiousness and agreeability desirable traits when hiring, the results of this study are interesting to consider. Boyce believes the solution is policymakers making a greater effort to lower unemployment rates and offer support to the unemployed.
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